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'Project Rebirth' Chronicles Revitalization of World Trade Center Site - 2003-10-30


The first phase of a new transportation hub at the World Trade Center site is scheduled to open by the end of November. But other aspects of rebuilding at the site remain unclear as developers, area residents, and city and state officials debate issues of design and space. Meanwhile, every step of the process is being recorded on cameras.

The first significant sign of the revitalization of the World Trade Center site is expected within weeks, when a commuter train between downtown Manhattan and towns in the neighboring state of New Jersey goes back into operation.

Officials say it will take more than a decade to fully rebuild the site, once work on the frequently modified plans for buildings and a memorial are begun.

But the entire reconstruction process is being captured on film, moment-by-moment, by six strategically-placed cameras.

Los Angeles-based director Jim Whitaker is overseeing Project Rebirth, which is tracking the rebuilding effort 24-hours a day for seven years. The result will be a 20-minute documentary, chronicling important moments in the transformation process.

"The effect of seven years will happen in 20 minutes," he said. "All of the screens around you will have these images. In addition to that, we are recording the voices and interviewing people randomly, some specifically, over time, so that you will hear the voices of people and their memories of the event as the years pass."

The first three cameras began recording in March 2002. Three more were added in September 2002. The 35-millimeter motion picture cameras are shooting one frame of film every five minutes, a total of 288 frames of footage every day.

In addition to cameras atop area skyscrapers, one is placed in a cemetery across from the site, and another one is located at the badly damaged fire station along the south border of Ground Zero, as the site is known.

The filmmakers are planning an original music score for the documentary. They are also filming workers at the site, survivors, victims' families, and participants in the reconstruction on a regular basis, in order to provide an historical and emotional record.

"What we are trying to do, we are trying to mark time as it goes by, and understand how people's memories are connected to healing," explains Jim Whitaker.

Project Rebirth is sponsored by the Aon Corporation, a company that lost 176 workers in the collapse of the twin trade-center towers. Organizers hope the film will become part of a World Trade Center museum planned for the site.